2019 Federal Election – Week 2: Our Racist Country

I have been trying to figure out what to write since Time posted that now famous article about Justin Trudeau.

It was a week that, by Monday, had already seen The Globe and Mail platform Ezra Levant, the Leaders’ Debate Commission give Maxime Bernier a spot on its stage, and the Conservative Party of Canada use white supremacist Faith Goldy as a co-signer on a campaign attack.

By Tuesday CTV ran an article about an NDP supporter not wanting to vote for Canada’s first national racialized Leader Jagmeet Singh because of his ‘hat’. And by early Wednesday evening, Canadians were getting their first glimpses of their Prime Minister in brownface. An image of him in blackface followed by a video of him in blackface would shortly follow. Before the weekend had even started, Elizabeth May admitted one of her candidates also had put on blackface in the past.

The campaign about nothing suddenly became a campaign that questions the self-constructed Canadian identity so many of us hold dear of a nation of inclusive, diverse people who are a beacon to the world. That Canada never existed anywhere but our minds, and certainly not in our politics or our communities.

The Fallout

The fallout has been different for everyone. In the Liberal circles I spend so much time in, the feeling is mixed. Some can no longer support the leader but want to continue to fight for the progress they helped deliver.

Others are disappointed but quick to point out the threat of a Conservative alternative led by Andrew Scheer who is staffed by former Rebel employees and supported by too many white supremacists for comfort. They’ve talked about the government actions taken by Trudeau and point to how that, plus his sincere apology and general lack of discriminatory intent, outweigh his racist actions.

After all, Scheer is said to have told Indigenous people in his own community that he doesn’t need their ‘Indian votes’. And we already know what he thinks of a woman’s right to choose and the supposed canine-likeness of same-sex marriage.

Partisans outside that Liberal bubble have a different take. The Conservatives have ignored calls for Scheer to apologize, turf his campaign team, and clean up his candidate sign-off process while suddenly growing a desire to call out racism everywhere but within their own ranks.

The NDP and Greens have pointed out there are more than two options on the ballot. But this too has its complications after some NDP organizers have spent months trying to undermine Jagmeet Singh because of his race and Elizabeth May made repeated calls to dump those involved in SNC Lavalin’s corruption and fraud charges into Indigenous communities to carry out ‘community service’.

The almost entirely white press pools traveling with each of the leaders have done little to investigate how this supposedly sudden wave of white supremacy and racism sprung up, choosing instead to focus on whether any of the leaders will pay a price at the polls. For political journalists, the horse race must always come first. Big societal questions that form the core of who we are as a nation can continue to take a back seat.

Lost in all of this are the only people who should really matter in any of it – the people of colour who Justin Trudeau decided to play-act as (at least) three times, who Andrew Scheer refuses to defend against his own campaign team and candidates, who Elizabeth May condescendingly talks about as a charity case, who Maxime Bernier vilifies on a near-daily basis, and who the rest of the electorate cherry-picks responses from to justify their own opinions on this entire mess.

People of colour are not a monolith. Differences in opinion, experience, and day-to-day reality exist like they do for anyone. And knowing one person of colour or multiple people of colour who share an opinion about all of this does not give anyone license to speak on their behalf or put forward ‘my black/brown’ friend arguments.

To Vote or Not to Vote

What decision to arrive at in this election, like every election, is each voter’s alone to determine. People who live with daily microaggressions do not need to be told which party is more or less racist and therefore who they should support. Every political party in Canada has had racist policies, racist histories, racist leaders, and racist members. What so few of them actually contain are clear ideas about how to decrease the systemic racism within them and clear platform policies to do the same Canada-wide.

Canada is a country formed out of the original sin of genocide. It is a country that coined the term ‘final solution’ before the Nazis ever made such dark use of it. It is a country that stole children from their families for decades and tried to destroy the very heart of their people until it no longer beat inside them. It is a country whose national anthem was written by a minstrel performer. It is a country that sterilized Indigenous women by force well after wrapping itself in a new flag and official multiculturalism. It is our country and it is racist because too often… so are we.

The non-stop revelations of racism, sexism, and homophobia in this campaign are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our shared past. But these revelations are not a reason to stay at home on Election Day. We may not be better than the version of ourselves we have been forced to come to terms with in the last week. But on October 21 we have a chance to start acting like we could be.

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